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The effects of sympathetic activation via acute exercise on physiological and subjective sexual arousal in women Meston, Cindy May


This investigation was designed to examine the effects of sympathetic activation on physiological and subjective sexual arousal in women. The purpose was to empirically test the widely held assumption that sympathetic activation inhibits sexual arousal. In experiment I, subjects participated in two experimental sessions in which they viewed a neutral preexposure stimulus followed by an erotic stimulus. In one of these sessions, subjects were exposed to 20 minutes of intense exercise, designed to increase sympathetic activity, prior to viewing the films. In experiment II, subjects viewed two consecutive neutral stimuli preceded by 20 minutes of intense exercise. Experiment II was designed primarily to verify the results of experiment I. Sexual arousal was measured physiologically with a vaginal photoplethysmograph and subjectively with a self-report rating scale. Acute exercise increased both vaginal pulse amplitude and vaginal blood volume responses to erotic stimuli but not to neutral stimuli. Subjective perceptions of sexual arousal were unaltered with exposure to exercise. The present findings have implications for the enhancing effects of anxiety upon sexual arousal in women, Wolpe's reciprocal inhibition hypothesis, desynchrony between subjective and physiological sexual arousal in women, and the treatment of sexual dysfunction.

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